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Parts Timeline #3: Bridges

The top ABR-1 is a low profile version from a 58 ES-335. It’s bent as are most of them. They simply couldn’t handle the downward pressure from a set of 12’s with a wound G string. They were gone by the end of the year replaced with what you see at the bottom-the no wire full height ABR-1

If you take the time to learn all of the “parts timelines” that I am posting, you should be able to date any ES 335, 345 or 355 built between 1958 and 1969. After that, I’m not your guy. I get dozens of e-mails asking me to authenticate, date or appraise these guitars every week and I do my best to answer them all. The problem is that all of my knowledge is based on observation. Yes, I read everything on the internet…guitarhq site-excellent and informative with a few small errors and one glaring one about 335’s and I read Adrian Ingraham’s book-not so excellent. I took what I could from them but going through around 600 guitars over the past 15 years or so has taught me more than any book. And, by the way, I was flattered to have been asked by Tony Bacon to consult with him on the history section of his 335 book.

The ABR-1 bridge first showed up in 1953 when the first Les Paul Custom was released. It hasn’t changed much over the years although it was discontinued for a while and brought back. It was a good design from day one, allowing the player to intonate each string individually, although it was limited in that you couldn’t adjust the height of each string individually. Still works pretty well though. The ABR-1 is not without its issues and some of them were addressed by Gibson and some were not. Let’s start in 1958 since that’s when the first 335’s were issued. The neck angle on the 335 was, for reasons unknown, very shallow and required a lower profile ABR-1 to allow the action to be low enough. Good enough solution to a problem which shouldn’t have existed in the first place. It was a kind of “don’t raise the bridge, lower the river” solution. The ABR-1 was made of cheap metal that fatigued and bent easily. 90% of vintage ABR-1’s have some measure of sag in the middle. The low profile ABR-1 was much worse. Most of them simply broke in half. Remember, nobody was using light gauge strings back in the 50’s. 335’s shipped with 12’s and 13’s were common. All sets had wrapped G strings. So, the stress on the bridge was considerable and they sagged.

By late 58, enough owners complained and Gibson started issuing shaved full height bridges to replace the sagging low profile ones. At around the same time, they changed the neck angle to allow for a full height bridge. End of problem. But there were other problems. The early ABR-1 had nothing to hold the saddle in place but the string pressure. Imagine you’re playing a gig in a dark bar, on a dark stage. You break the E string and the saddle flies off. You probably don’t have to imagine too hard. It’s happened to most of us. It’s a little like losing a contact lens. You’re down on your knees in the middle of a gig trying to find the missing saddle. You can’t find it and you play the rest of the gig with 5 strings. The solution was simple, if a little inelegant. In early 1963 (could be late 62-it’s hard to pin down the date because so many have been changed) Gibson added a retaining wire to keep the saddles in place. It’s a pain to remove and a pain to reinstall if you need to, but it works. There have been ABR-1 copies that have saddles that stay in place without a wire and Gibson had one called the Nashville bridge but that’s a different post.

At some point during 1962, they switched from metal saddles to nylon. I think the reason for this was to make the strings slide more easily across the saddles when using the then popular Bigsby. They finally got around to beefing up the bridge to lessen the effect of the pressure exerted by the strings. This occurred in 1965 and, unless you have an older one and a newer one side by side, you probably won’t notice the slightly heavier design. At about the same time they added the patent number to the bottom of the unit and made the company name and the manufacturer’s mark much smaller. That maker’s mark would disappear by the late 60’s (useful for dating).

Timeline:

58: Low profile metal saddles. No wire, nickel

Late 58-early 63: Full height (some shaved in late 58), no wire, metal saddles, nickel

Late 62-early 63: Full height, no wire, nylon saddles (rare), nickel

63-early 65: Full height, wire retainer, nylon saddles, nickel

65-69: Full height, wire, nylon saddles, patent number w/makers mark. Chrome. Makers mark disappears around 69.

Gold bridges follow similar timeline with some small variation in dates.

One more odd characteristic to note. In ’65, there were 4 different versions of ABR-1 used on 335’s. There was the nickel one with Gibson in big letters on the back in nickel. The same one in chrome and the one with the patent number in both nickel (rare) and chrome. All had nylon saddles and wire retainers. The early nickel one was gone by the Spring and a few of the patent number nickel ones showed up during that period. By around May, Gibson had used up most of the nickel parts and was using chrome. There are plenty of guitars with some nickel and some chrome parts in 1965. It’s pretty easy to tell the difference once the nickel starts to tarnish but when brand new, they look pretty similar to most folks. Here’s a tip if you aren’t sure. Chrome looks blue. Nickel looks green. It’s subtle.

Covering a lot of ground with this photo. Top is patent number with the makers mark (off to the right). Below that is pat # without it in chrome. Early nickel below that -note the difference between chrome and nickel. Bottom shows the retaining wire.

5 Responses to “Parts Timeline #3: Bridges”

  1. RAB says:

    Charlie, excellent, detailed information for us git-tar geeks as always. I loved your observation about Gibson “lowering the river as opposed to raising the bridge”! The company had a penchant to save a buck or “half-ass” a measure, E.G. shaving or notching the bridge body. I recall getting a ‘62 cherry 335. The neck angle was quite shallow. The bridge had been notched on the treble side to allow the action to be lowered an additional amount. Looked like someone had taken a bench grinder to it. No attempt at replating the affected area. I assumed this was some player’s after-market practical but inelegant fix. Then I encountered the identical notched bridge on my ‘62 Epi Riviera. Yup- definitely a factory mod! I’d have been a bit pissed as the original buyer back in the day to receive my new guitar with this inelegant solution. Of course I guess you could say the same think about the black painted “stinger” Gibson used to hide imperfections in the wood of the neck peg head and/or heel!

  2. RAB says:

    Anyone else encounter one of these shaved or modified ABR-1 tuneomatics?

  3. RAB says:

    Gulp! Someone must have encountered these modified bridges other than Charlie and me! Let’s hear about ‘em!

  4. Joe Campagna says:

    Seen a few of the curved bottom t-o-ms on Bigsby models over the years.Some with domed wheels as well.Second from the left

  5. RAB says:

    Joe, right, the factory mod for use with Bigsbys. Interesting bridges weren’t similarly modified for use with the sideways trems, at least not in my experience…

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